The Sarasota County School Board has set discussion of Superintendent Brennan Asplen’s departure for its next meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 13 after canceling a penciled-in special meeting last week.
According to an agenda posted on Tuesday, the required week in advance of a public meeting, discussion will focus on terms of Asplen’s resignation and the appointment of an interim superintendent.
Among the key points of a separation agreement between Asplen and the school board are that his departure will be considered a resignation and that his pay will continue for 32 weeks, along with pay from unused vacation time, sick leave.
The school district also would pay Asplen’s legal fees and moving expenses.
Additionally, the agreement calls for a period of consultancy for three months to whomever the school board chooses as an interim superintendent, during which time Asplen would agree to be available for questions or counsel.
If the agreement, which totals more than $170,000, is agreed to by the school board next week, the next step would be to find an interim supervisor. The agenda calls for discussions of nominations, salary determination and a vote to appoint.
Although dozens of other routine matters also appear on the Dec. 13 agenda, consideration of Asplen’s ouster is scheduled as the final two agenda items of a meeting that is begin at 6 p.m., likely ending weeks of uncertainty over what would ultimately take place.
In a hours-long special meeting on Nov. 29, a meeting that featured dozens of speakers in support of Asplen, the school board voted 4-1 to proceed with negotiations with Asplen to complete his ouster from the school district after two and half years.
Without detailed specifics, board member Karen Rose cited communication problems with Asplen and an atmosphere of tumult surrounding board meetings as her motivation to begin the process, which launched Nov. 22.
In an interview with the Observer, Rose said: “My sole goal was to initiate a process for how we are going to bring unity back to the district. I’ve had the opportunity to work for three decades in this district with unity. So the divisiveness has to be addressed. … There has a been a strong, consistent voice for change in the district going back to COVID. … And I’ve tried for change on the dais and in one-on-ones. But I don’t see it.”
Rose and newcomer-to-the-board Tim Enos both expressed concerns with the lack of growth in reading, science and math achievement scores.
Following the Nov. 29 meeting, a follow up meeting on Friday, Dec. 2 was tentatively set, but that day announced the meeting had been set aside.
In a statement from Sarasota County Schools on Dec. 2, a spokesperson wrote: “Matters were addressed during the School Board Special Meeting earlier this week (Tuesday, November 29) and negotiations are ongoing per the School Board’s action. No additional business items have been requested from any School Board members to warrant a meeting this evening.’’
A poll of Sarasota County Teachers Association members drew more than 2,000 responses in two days, the union said in an email to members. Of those responses, 97% “wanted the School Board to do everything in their power to retain Superintendent Asplen.’’
“The decision made on Tuesday will completely disrupt our school district and may have ramifications that will last for years,’’ wrote Barry Dubin, the SC/TA’s executive director. “What high quality Sarasota-quality, if that term still has any meaning, superintendent would come here to work under these conditions? Will we just get applicants who have no other choices?”
A consistent refrain from those supporting Asplen was a perceived political motivation by the new board majority, three of whom won contentious elections in August, defeating a trio of Democratic Party supported candidates. Although non-partisan, Ziegler, Enos and Marinelli drew backing of not only the local Republican Party but also that of Gov. Ron DeSantis, who campaigned for and supported like-minded school board candidates statewide.
“When ZEM (Zeigler, Enos and Marinelli) ran for school board the board members said they were advocates of the staff and never once mentioned firing the superintendent. That being said, how in the world did we end up here?’’ Dubin wrote.
Earlier this week, the Longboat Key Town Commission considered making its opinion known of the situation with the School Board and Asplen, but in the end decided against taking sides in what could be seen as a partisan issue.
“We don’t have people tell us how we hire or fire our town manager,” Vice Mayor Maureen Merrigan said. “These folks were voted in, good or bad, whether we agree or disagree.”
Mayor Ken Schneier, though, wrote a personal note to the School Board, asking that more consideration be given to working out differences.
"Please try,'' Schneier wrote. "You would all be heroes.”